As he hits the golden jubilee milestone (on January 21), I couldn’t think of a better depiction of that biblical line, “a friend that sticks closer than a brother”.
Sure, the story of his extraordinary climb from the bottom to the zenith of his chosen career – law – is now public knowledge. Without the proverbial silver spoon, without a godfather, Festus pulled himself uphill, earning the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on account of winning a number of landmark cases that have undoubtedly extended the frontiers of jurisprudence in Nigeria.
I was there when Festus started from Gani Fawehinmi’s Chambers about three decades ago. Back then, we would play boys’ pranks in his one-room apartment a stone’s throw away from the work-place on weekends. I was there at the founding of National Conscience Party (NCP). I was there when Festus decided it was time to take a deep plunge into the world of uncertainty and left Gani at a tender age.
I was there when he took a leap of faith in 1995 by opening his own chambers in Anthony, Lagos. I was there as he started from the scratch. I witnessed him build, block by block, an enviable name through sheer hard-work, doggedness, fidelity to progressive values and fierce commitment to the pan-Nigerian cause.
I was there through all his struggles for a better society, from military regimes to civilian governments; all the arrests, detentions, charges, trials and acquittals. All those periods, surely and steadily, Festus etched his way into the consciousness of Nigerians.
Overall, what easily marks him out in the crowd is the courage he summons in the defense or propagation of his convictions.
But professional life aside, one domain many may not yet be too acquainted about Festus is his character as a person. Beyond the public perception of a serious and difficult character, privately Festus likes to laugh, play and joke. He loves comedy. He doesn’t take himself so seriously as others do. He is perhaps, the thickest skin I have ever seen – once he is set on his course, nothing you throw at him bothers him or distracts him.
We have been friends for almost three decades. With Festus in your corner, I can attest that you don’t need any army, even under fire. He is a true friend in all weather – fair or foul. He was the best-man at my wedding (the second being Segun Adeniyi). He has acted the part all through the years.
Over the last two decades, I have had my own fair share of court cases – whether professional or personal. Out of instinctive solidarity, Festus has handled all my cases free of charge, and won almost all.
Indeed, he embodies loyalty in the true sense of the word. In all our years of intimate friendship, I can’t remember us ever quarreling, not even once. This is because Festus is never pretentious and is a true “Afenifere” at heart, never forgetting the son of who he is. On completion of his first mansion (Noah’s Ark) in Lagos some two decades ago, a room was allocated to me symbolically. When I built mine few years later, he was the coordinator at the house-warming.
On the occasion of his golden jubilee, I know Festus’ sun is only just rising in the service of our fatherland. I wish him longevity, more wisdom, prosperity and robust health.